• Saturday, May 18, 2024
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Stakeholders call for probe of NIMASA boss over alleged N800m return ticket scam

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Following the alleged illegality and ethnic sentiment that seem to be rocking the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), stakeholders have called for the probe of the director general of the agency, Ziakede Patrick Akpobolokemi.

According to the stakeholders under the aegis of Maritime Stakeholders’ Group (MSG), the National Assembly should probe the alleged purchase of return flight tickets for some of the seafarers currently being trained in Malaysia at a whopping cost of N1.5 million each, amounting to over N800 million on flights alone, for the 536 cadets on the National Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP).

Findings show that return ticket to Malaysia usually costs between N300,000 for normal period and N500,000 for peak period per head. This implies that the cost of the ticket was inflated to arrive at the alleged N1.5 million spent on ticketing.

Ibrahim Ofonimeh, coordinator of the MSG, in a petition to the presidency copies of which were sent to the National Assembly and the Federal Character Commission and made available to newsmen, urged President Goodluck Jonathan to save the nation’s maritime industry from the dangers of ethnic biases.

The petition also alleged that the 536 seafarers currently on training in some maritime institutions across the world were selected from the South-South geopolitical zone contrary to the standard practice of selecting youths from the six geopolitical zones in the country.

Ofonimeh said the development has fuelled speculation that the current NIMASA boss was appointed to head the agency, despite his alleged questionable qualification as against the industry standard stipulated by NIMASA Act.

In his own view, Niyi Labinjo, the secretary-general of Indigenous Shipowners’ Association of Nigeria (ISAN), who described the current happenings at the agency as hurricane, warned that the maritime industry would be destroyed if government still retains Akpobolokemi as the DG of NIMASA.

The allegations said that the situation have led to the collapse of over 80 percent of the nation’s indigenous shipping companies, had drawn the attention of the National Assembly which promptly summoned the DG for questioning.

Also, the NIMASA boss was alleged to have employed 135 senior staffs into the agency out of which 122 were from Bayelsa State alone, and according to Labinjo, Akpobolokemi allegedly promoted 28 staff of the agency out of whom “26 were alleged to come from his tribe”.

Both Akpobolokemi and Lt Col Agbu Kefas, the NIMASA board chairman, lack the qualification, discipline and vision to drive the industry forward and the earlier they are removed the better for the maritime sector,” Labinjo said.

Meanwhile, Akpobolokemi, who appeared before the Senate Committee on Federal Character penultimate week, had admitted that NIMASA is not up to 80 percent compliant to the Federal Character principles.

Ofonimeh said following the recent retirements and redeployment of senior officers of the agency in favour of newly recruited staffs who are mainly from Niger-Delta, Akpobolokemi has thus entrenched the culture of nepotism as confirmed by him before the lawmakers.

The petitioner pointed out that according to sections 6 & 7 of the Act establishing the agency, “The President with the recommendation of the minister of transport is empowered to appoint members of the board of NIMASA for which the director general is a member” and that such members should possess “relevant experience and capacity applicable to maritime administration, recognised expert knowledge, qualification and experience in one or more of the following fields.”

These fields are: “maritime safety, maritime security, maritime pollution, nautical sciences and hydrographic and maritime engineering. Others include finance, marine law, transport logistics, administration and marine labour”.

“The abnormal appointment of a parastatal’s head has only succeeded in the gradual erosion of the principle of Federal Character in the maritime industry from where government derives its second largest revenue earnings,” Ofonimeh said.

The MSG coordinator further recalled that under Akpobolokemi, the nation has continued to witness an unprecedented failure in the ranking of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO),

“Yet the NIMASA boss said that such world ranking was not his priority, after Nigeria lost the Council Seat at IMO under his leadership”.

Reacting to this, Isichie Osamgbi, head, public affairs of NIMASA, denied the allegation of ethnic sentiment in selecting youths for the NSDP training, saying that the NSDP comes in two phases. The first phase, he said, is sponsored by the agency in collaboration with the state government for the six geopolitical zones, and the second phase is solely sponsored by NIMASA. He did not, however, comment on the allegation of the N800 million ticket scam for the 536 cadets.